EQRx adds armor to its discount checkpoint inhibitor submission, nailing survival mark in key study
The rules say you can’t disrupt any market unless you are, in fact, a part of that market — and self-styled drug pricing disruptor EQRx is one step closer to doing just that.
A combination of EQRx and CStone’s PD-(L)1 drug sugemalimab and chemotherapy significantly prolonged patients’ lives over placebo in patients with newly diagnosed stage IV non-small cell lung cancer, according to updated data from the Phase III GEMSTONE-302 study unveiled Tuesday evening.
The topline win on this key secondary endpoint backs up data the partners released back in May with the sugemalimab-chemo combo significantly cutting patients’ risk of disease progression or death.
These fuller results — hard data on the OS endpoint are still under lock and key — should add armor to EQRx and CStone’s push to get sugemalimab across the finish line as a proof-of-concept for the former’s growing pipeline of discounted drugs.
“Price remains a barrier to accessing innovative therapies for many people with lung cancer around the world, despite the availability of multiple anti-PD-(L)1 therapies,” said Vince Miller, EQRx’s physician-in-chief, in a statement. “We look forward to engaging with global regulatory authorities with the aim of delivering a lower-cost treatment option to patients upon approval.”
EQRx is running a second, all-Chinese Phase III study for sugemalimab as consolidation therapy in a subset of these patients. The drugmaker read out results at last year’s ESMO showing a sugemalimab-chemo combo posted a median progression-free survival of 9 months compared with 5.8 months for patients given placebo (p=0.0026).
A self-styled drug pricing disruptor, EQRx has earned biopharma’s ear with a game plan to significantly undercut competitor pricing by targeting “financially toxic” drug markets without any meaningful price competition. Immuno-oncology represents a natural first effort with seven approved PD-(L)1 drugs on the US market and no discounted option available.
Sugemalimab, a Chinese-born candidate, could represent EQRx’s first real shot at challenging some major players in this space, but convincing the FDA the drug adds something meaningful to patients in a packed field will be a challenge in and of itself. On Tuesday, EQRx highlighted that the sugemalimab-chemo combo showed “clinical benefit” across PD(L)1 expressing subtypes — potentially a point of differentiation, but the full data aren’t available.
As EQRx looks to disrupt these drug markets, Big Pharma has taken note to a degree. Eli Lilly, which is hoping to bring its own PD-(L)1 drug to the US market in sintilimab, announced back in September it would take the discounting road if its secures FDA approval alongside partner Innovent.
At the time, EQRx praised that decision with CEO Melanie Nallicheri saying, “I applaud them and that’s fantastic.” But it raises a question: If financial toxicity in some of these markets is so obvious and the discounting strategy is viable, then why haven’t other drugmakers already done it?
EQRx thinks that bringing a wave of drugs to approval could help its business operate at scale, challenging Big Pharma in areas it wouldn’t think to discount. But doing so requires cutting costs across the board, both at clinical and preclinical scale as well as in marketing. The biotech covered one side of that equation back in June, inking a research collaboration with buzzy AI startup Exscientia, which boasts its ability to significantly cut drug discovery costs through its deep learning platform.
Meanwhile EQRx has leaned on clinical trials run abroad to cut costs down even more while building a “buyer’s club” of private insurers, all in an effort to make the economics work. Will they? That’s still left to be seen.